Gov. Phil Bryant joined community advocates in Tupelo on Tuesday to face down the challenge of teen parenthood.

“This is a grassroots effort,” said Bryant, who has spoken at a series of community meetings across the state since launching Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi in April 2012. “It’s going to take each and every one of us.”

Mississippi’s 2011 teen birth rate – 50.2 births per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years old – has improved significantly over the past two decades dropping by more than 40 percent since 1991, but is remains notably higher than the national average – 31.3 births per 1,000.

Broad efforts to call community groups, churches and individuals to action aren’t about shaming teen moms, Bryant told a group of more than 150 on Tuesday.

“We worry about her quality of life,” Bryant said, and the quality of life of her children.

All of the negative outcomes for children and young adults – poverty, lack of education, incarceration, are worse for teen moms and their children. Not only does teen pregnancy cost taxpayers more because the moms and their children need more aid and services, but it also impacts future economic development.

“We won’t have the educated workforce we need to attract the Yokohama Tire Companies and the Toyotas,” Bryant said.

He also spoke bluntly of the need to get tough on adult men who have sex with girls under 16 – which is a crime – and do more to identify fathers so they share the burden of supporting their children.

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